Subliminal Messages

In the fourth of our series of informative articles on Hypnosis, we look at how subliminal messages are used within the sphere of hypnosis

People often display a deep mistrust of anything to do with subliminal messages in any kind of media. This stems from certain abuses of subliminal messages in audio and visual form by the advertising fraternaty in the early days of cinema and television. In the late 1960's "subliminal cuts" as they were then known, were completely banned from all advertising in cinemas and on television.

Subliminal cuts were simply single frames picturing a product to be sold, that were spliced into a reel of film at certain points. In cinemas, these would be something that the cinema would be selling during the intermission, say for instance a picture of a hot-dog with a simple message, saying something like "Enjoy a delicious hot dog". Because the "cut" was only one frame, it passed by much too quickly for the audience to consciously see.

The beauty of subliminal cuts were that the human eye does see everything that is presented to it and that visual information is sent to the brain to be processed and stored in memory. So even though the unsuspecting audience would not have consciously registered the picture of the hot dog or the message that went with it, that picture and message was imprinted on their subconscious. The picture combined with the simple message would have been interpreted by the brain as something the individual might have thought of themselves, so an unconscious desire to eat a hot dog had been implanted in the subconscious minds of the audience. Not surprisingly, the cinemas found that sales of hot dogs went through the roof during the intermission!

Despite the discovery that using these one-frame pictures of products to be advertised increased sales of those product quite significantly, the advertisers ran afoul of broadcasting censorship boards for abusing the public's trust and so the use of subliminal cuts was eventually banned. It remains so today.

Of course, not all uses of subliminal messages are soley for monetary gain. Used in a positive way to benefit people, subliminal messages can be a powerful tool in assisting hypnotherapists to help their clients to overcome their particular problem. Simple audio messages buried in background music can be used to help a person to relax and then to feel comfortable working with their problem to affect a permanent cure.

Subliminal Audio

Subliminal audio messages work on the same principle to visual ones, in that the human ear also registers everything it hears and sends the messages to the brain to be processed and stored in memory. The brain then acts on those messages. If, for example, the message said simply "relax", the recipient would naturally begin to relax. This simple example is used often in the background music played along with self-help hypnotherapy CDs and is helpful and effective in helping a person to relax and nothing more.

There is a technical downside to this, however. When recording subliminal messages within music, the levels of those subliminals are set below that of the music. In the past, all music was recorded onto analog audio tape, so there was no problem because everything that was recorded, including the subliminal material was physically encoded onto the tape. So even though the subliminal messages were set at a threshold below the level of the music, they were still present and could be interpreted by the human brain.

More recently, digital recording methods began to replace analog tape as the storage medium, but the same principle applied in that all recorded information was encoded into digital bit streams, including the subliminal material. The storage mediums then were Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and Compact Disc (CD). These used the highest quality bit rate (44100 Hz) which became the music recording industry standard for digital audio recording.

The problems for encoding subliminal material in music began when the digitally recordable mini-disc arrived on the scene. It was hailed as the replacement for analog cassette tape and quickly became popular. However, because of the physically small format of mini-disc, it wasn't possible to fit large digital files (in the form of 44100 Hz ".wav" files) onto the mini-disc, so certain digital processing was necessary to reduce the size of the files so that they did fit. That digital processing used an algorithm to determined which digital bits were necessary to keep in order to maintain the best digital audio quality and which must be removed. Any bits that the algorithm determined would not be within the audio range of the human ear were removed. This reduced the size of the file considerable, while retaining the digital quality of the recording.

Good news for audio, bad news for subliminals.

Because any subliminal material that was encoded in the original master recording was determined by the algorithm to be below the threshold of human hearing, the digital bits that contained them were removed from the recording. Ok, that means no more subliminal material, right?

Not quite.

Because that subliminal material consists of spoken messages and the human voice modulates at different levels and pitches as it is spoken, some parts of the subliminal message are not necessarily removed. So what you potentially end up with is partial messages being heard subliminally by the recipient - and these could be potentially damaging depending on what the message was.

Let's take a possible message on a quit smoking audio, for example: "You will never want to smoke again". Lets take the worst possible scenario and the algorithm only removes one word from the message - the word "never". Now the message unconsciously decoded by the recipient's brain reads: "You will want to smoke again".

Oh, dear!

Ok, that was a worst case scenario, but it could happen in a way that creates unpredictable results.

The reason I'm highlighting this here, is that since the demise of mini-disc and other format has become rather more popular, but uses a similar algorithm to reduce the filesize as mini-disc.


Now, with MP3 recordings, the algorithm used to reduce the filesize will remove most, if not all subliminal material. At best, the entire subliminal message is removed and there would be no problem, as long as the subliminally encoded music was only intended to enhance the overall hypnotherapy recording. There may be problems if only part of the subliminal messages were removed, as highlighted above. But it would be no good at all to create a subliminally encoded piece of music to be used on its own for whatever purpose, if it was in MP3 format. It would HAVE TO BE recorded as a .wav file using the highest quality digital encoding, with a bitrate of at least 44100 Hz.

All of my self-help hypnotherapy CDs are recorded with subliminal messages encoded in the background music and these were recorded at 44100 Hz and are in .wav format. I am currently creating hypnotherapy recordings in MP3 format which do NOT contain any subliminal material whatsoever, in order to negate any potential problems.

Author: Terry Didcott DHP

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